For Rocket and Its Rivals, Mortgage Advice Is Next

Online lenders have made the application process simpler for many. Now they’re developing new tools to help borrowers with the decisions that arise throughout the mortgage process.
Mortgage Process, Mortgages
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For Rocket and its Rivals, Mortgage Advice is Next

Quicken Loans introduced Rocket Mortgage in a commercial that aired during the 2016 Super Bowl, pledging to “turn an intimidating process into an easy one.” It has simplified the work of documenting income and assets — and competitors have rushed to do the same.

But gathering documentation is only one of many intimidating steps in getting a mortgage. Among the toughest decisions is choosing a loan offer. A 30-year loan, a 15-year mortgage or something in between? A higher rate with lower fees or a lower rate with higher fees? A personal loan or a home equity line of credit?

Now Rocket and its rivals are developing tools to help borrowers make these decisions — and they’re encouraging borrowers to make sound decisions online, on the phone and in person.

Cut paperwork, add flexibility

Among the lenders leading the way to the digital age of mortgages are Quicken Loans, with its Rocket Mortgage brand, and loanDepot, whose “digital lending platform” is called mello. There are also service providers, such as Roostify, that build online application software for lender websites.

These companies automate the vexing task of applying for a mortgage. Roostify’s CEO, Rajesh Bhat, says his company is “based on our traumatic experience as consumers.” He wants applying for a home loan to feel as simple as buying an airline ticket or booking a hotel online.

Other lenders have similar ideas.

Lenders want to make applying for a home loan as simple as buying an airline ticket.

“Our vision is that we need to serve the consumer on their own terms,” says Dominick Marchetti, chief technology officer for loanDepot. “So if that means that they want to self-serve in the middle of the night by logging in on their mobile device and applying for a loan, we want to be able to serve them there.”

Regis Hadiaris, Rocket Mortgage’s senior product manager, echoes that theme: “We’ve built this to be very flexible so clients can do as much or as little as they want to do online, or they do it as fast or as slow as they want to.”

Keeping the human touch

These innovations might be helpful, but a lot of people still want to speak to human beings when they’re getting ready to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is especially the case for first-time home buyers.

In a survey conducted at the end of 2016 on behalf of Ellie Mae, a mortgage technology provider, mortgage borrowers were asked, “What could have improved your recent experience?” The No. 1 answer for millennials was “more face-to-face” communication. (The No. 1 answer for Gen Xers and boomers was “faster process.”)

Get answers to questions about your loan by phone, chat, text, or even in person.

Those survey results don’t surprise loanDepot’s Marchetti. “Millennials, although they’re digital natives, don’t understand the APR and closing costs and all the complexity of a mortgage, so they typically don’t finish online,” he says. “They want to talk to someone, they want to be educated about the process. They’re not comfortable just working all the way through the process digitally.”

Marchetti says the mello lending platform doesn’t favor one form of communication over another. It’s fine if the customer wants to “walk into their local Starbucks and meet their salesperson,” talk on the phone at night or get all the information online.

Quicken follows a similar philosophy. Customers can call on the phone, chat online, or communicate by text anytime during the process, Hadiaris says.

Smaller lenders embrace the personal touch, too. 360 Mortgage Group, a mortgage bank in Austin that prides itself on its in-house online application technology, encourages borrowers to call loan officers with questions, president Mark Greco says. It’s part of the lender’s philosophy of allowing customers “to go through and look at the different options without pressure,” he says.

Next frontier: Mortgage advice

The next frontier in online mortgages is giving loan recommendations based on each customer’s goals.

LoanDepot and Quicken are among the leaders in applying “machine learning” to mortgage lending. Machine learning involves making predictions using large amounts of data. When you buy an item on Amazon and receive a list of other items you might want, that’s the result of machine learning.

The goal is for artificial intelligence to tailor loan options to the borrower’s needs.

The Amazon shopping experience is a benchmark and an inspiration for mortgage executives. When a website gives a borrower several loan options, the choices are based partly on what other customers have selected in the past.

“We’re going to support more and more client scenarios,” Hadiaris says. “People’s financial situations can be unique and complicated.” The goal is for artificial intelligence to deliver “mortgage solutions” tailored to each borrower’s needs, the way human loan officers have always done.

Sometimes customers are given choices that they wouldn’t have considered. “They’re usually excited about that,” Hadiaris says, giving an example of someone who wants a cash-out refinance, but never considered the possibility of shortening the loan’s term, too.

Marchetti cites a scenario of someone who starts out applying for a personal loan on mello, but during the process, loanDepot discovers that the money will be spent on home improvements. In that case, mello would advise getting a home equity line of credit, with a lower interest rate than a personal loan. The goal, Marchetti says, is to enrich the borrower’s loan application “with tons of information … to figure out basically what is the best course to solve for this consumer.”

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